7 June 2022
by Avery Cunningham GradIMMM

Coming out at the workplace

As Pride month reflects on the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people, Avery Cunningham GradIMMM, Vice Chair of the IOM3 Pride Group, talks about coming out in the workplace.

The act of coming out is an interesting premise for people who identify as queer. The idea that it is a one-time event is a widely held belief. Though any queer people will tell you, that is not the case. Coming out is a never-ending process for anyone LGBTQIA+. It is never something that happens just once.

Even if you were to herd all the people you know into a single room at the same time, you still would not be finished. You would still go through life, meeting new people and repeating the process all over again, whether it be with a new friend, a new colleague, or any other people we interact with in our day-to-day lives.

There are a lot of factors that go into determining the benefits and drawbacks of coming out at work, such as where you live, whether or not your family is aware of your sexual orientation, the industry you work in, and your own personal sexual orientation and gender identity.

Decisions about revealing one’s identity can have far-reaching effects on a person’s professional, social and emotional life. Especially if you are viewed as somebody senior or a role model, coming out in the workplace can be intimidating and takes a lot of courage.

However, that does not mean you should not make the decision to come out. In fact, studies have shown that when workers are allowed to be their genuine, authentic selves at work, they are more productive and engaged.

In a similar vein, when they have a sense of safety, they are more likely to feel at ease, enjoy their roles and perform to the best of their abilities. In addition to improving your day-to-day life, coming out can be an opportunity to celebrate who you are as a person.

This is something we can all help with, whether we are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, or simply an ally. We all have the responsibility to do what we can to establish procedures and suitable measures to offer support and reassurance to team members if they do wish to come out, as well as challenging any discrimination promptly and efficiently.

With all this in mind, here are some steps you can take if you are thinking about coming out at work.

 The first involves making sure your company is safe. Does your employee have a written non-discrimination policy? Does it specifically cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity? Is there an LGBTQIA+ network at your workplace? And is there anyone already out at your workplace you can talk to?

Do not be afraid to reach out to groups or individuals in your workplace if you can. Just make sure to be respectful and mindful of boundaries at all times. It’s possible that some people won’t be able to help you along the way because they don’t feel confident or equipped to do so.

In any case, everyone has been in your shoes at some point, and who knows, you might be the person others turn to for advice someday.

Upon determining that your workplace is safe, you may wish to begin discussing your sexual/romantic orientation or gender identity with your colleagues.

There are a lot of different approaches that you could take to accomplish this. You have the option of coming out to your peers one-on-one, or you could do it first to a smaller group.

Other things to consider are if you would like to come out to your co-workers in-person or via an email. Timing may also be a factor in your decision to come out, for example, making the decision to do so before annual leave to give people the chance to digest before you return.

In the case of coming out in regard to your gender identity, the temptation may be to get it over with as quickly as possible (which is completely understandable as you might feel like you have waited long enough). However, you may prefer to take more of a slow, subtle approach, beginning with changing your appearance, such as clothing, before the ‘big coming out.’ This can help you determine where you would like your transition to take you, but also test the waters with your colleagues. The process might also involve a surprising amount of admin to complete with your line manager, including changing personal log-in details and email addresses to reflect name changes.

When it comes to coming out in the workplace, the truth is there are no hard and fast rules, rather, it is a matter of personal choice and how much of one’s personal life one wishes to share with their co-workers.

I hope that you all have success in figuring out the path that is best for you coming out. Getting to express your true, authentic self is in itself a joy and should be celebrated as such with pride, this Pride month.

Also see...

A role model is born – interview with Dr Clara Barker


Avery Cunningham GradIMMM